Kelle Hampton Touches World With Story of Down Syndrome

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Kelle Hampton

Kelle Hampton, pictured with daughters Lainey, 2, and Nella Cordelia, eight weeks, shared on her blog the unexpected news that Nella has Down Syndrome. Credit: Kelle Hampton

Kelle Hampton's blog, Enjoying the Small Things, is a lush peek into her life as a photographer, wife and mother in Naples, Fla., gracefully told with her own gorgeous photos and beautiful prose about the poetry that can be found in everyday life.

Hampton, 31, has been writing about her life as wife to husband, Brett, and mom to her 2-year-old daughter Lainey nearly every day since December 2007. It made perfect sense that she would announce the birth of her second daughter, Nella Cordelia, on her blog. And she did, with this entry written by her sister and posted on Jan. 24:

At 4:24 pm, January 22, 2010, six pound Nella Cordelia Hampton entered the world and our hearts.

Nella has Down Syndrome.
That first post garnered more than 100 comments from her readers. Since then, the story of Nella's birth and how her unexpected Down Syndrome diagnosis left the young mother stunned, has gone viral, spreading through links and social media networks. Hampton writes a breathtakingly honest post about the conflicting emotions -- heartbreak, joy and fear -- surrounding her second daughter's arrival:

I knew the minute I saw her that she had Down Syndrome and nobody else did. I held her and cried. Cried and panned the room to meet eyes with anyone that would tell me she didn't have it. I held her and looked at her like she wasn't my baby and tried to take it in. And all I can remember of these moments is her face. I will never forget my daughter in my arms, opening her eyes over and over ... she locked eyes with mine and stared ... bore holes into my soul.

Love me. Love me. I'm not what you expected, but oh, please love me.

More than 2,000 readers left comments of love and solidarity for the Florida family, and Hampton's experience continues to resonate. The story of Nella's birth was not what Hampton ever expected to write, nor was she expecting the surge of compassion and support her words have attracted from the online community. But, she tells ParentDish, her newborn daughter -- and the way the world has embraced her -- has helped her see that perfection comes in many forms.

ParentDish: You've been blogging for a long time, but the story you wrote about Nella's birth was so personal, and so beautifully written. Was it a hard decision to write so honestly about such a personal moment in your life on such an open forum?
Kelle Hampton: There wasn't a question in my mind that I would write about it. I realized when I wrote the birth story of my first daughter what a therapeutic beautiful experience it was for me to recall and document all those emotions, and what a gift it was for her someday to read it.

Then, after the agonizing emotions of Nella's birth, it wasn't just that I wanted to write her story, it was that I needed to. I walked around for a week like I was holding back, like I couldn't really move on until I wrote it all down. And the moment I finished it, I walked out of my bedroom, face completely blurred with tears and said to my husband, "There. I did it. I can move on."

As far as the open forum, my blog at that time had a pretty small readership of friends, family and a few people I have come to "know" through the incredible blog world. I had no idea it would become so public. However, I think it is a personal moment that needs to be shared, to welcome other mothers who have gone through this to talk about their feelings, to rid themselves of guilt, and to know that these gut-wrenching emotions are real, are shared and are OK.

PD: Were you surprised that your story moved so many people?
KH: Yes and no. I was surprised our story received so much attention because this story is like so many others. I've met so many women through this story that have gone through the same thing, and they have told me, "You told my exact story word for word." So the fact that this stood out as different from any other story has been surprising. I think the reason this story has gone "global" is perhaps because I talked about things that not everyone is comfortable talking about.

When I published my birth story, within days the hits on my Web site started rising astronomically. I answered the phone one night to hear my dad: "Are you watching what's happening on your site right now? You have 753 comments, Kelle." And it just kept growing. I was shocked. But, during those first weeks when things were still very difficult and hard to take in, I cannot begin to explain what a lifeline these commenters were. I would sit in the middle of the night, nursing Nella, and scroll through my e-mail on my phone and just weep. These amazing, beautiful people said the perfect things.

PD: How has Nella's birth and her diagnosis of Down Syndrome changed you?
KH: It has changed me to the core. I've learned how "pain" shapes you as a person and propels you to new depths and how "perfection" is not the glossy magazine cover that Hollywood portrays. I'm learning to shed off the shallow parts of my character I've adopted over the years and replace them with love and appreciation for real, painful, beautiful life.

PD: Nella's Down Syndrome clearly came as a surprise. Did you have any testing done prior to her birth?
KH: I did not have any testing during my pregnancy. Her ultrasounds did not show any "markers" for concern, and although I know many of these tests are beneficial in identifying problems, I have known several people who have received the testing only to get false positives and therefore cause alarm for the remainder of that blessed period of a woman's life.

Would I have changed the fact that I didn't know Nella had Down Syndrome? My experience, although painful, is still beautiful to me, and having my beautiful, perfect daughter placed in my arms was still a reward and holding her and loving her took the pain away so much more quickly than if I would have had to deal with the news for 20 weeks prior.

PD: You mention on your blog that you planning to write a book. Can you share with us what prompted you to make the decision, and will it be about your journey with Nella?
KH: I've always wanted to write a book, ever since I was a little girl and fell in love with creative writing in elementary school. I didn't, however, know what the topic would be. Nella's birth and (our) journey will definitely be a big part of the book, but I would love to look at the greater scheme of life and what I've learned from all the experiences I've encountered, from the painful to the funny to the beautiful.

PD: The vulnerability you show on your blog is very touching. Is it scary to put yourself out there like that?
KH: Every once and awhile, I'll question myself about this, but it's becoming less and less. It's funny, because when people ask this question, I'm actually a little bit surprised because aren't the things I discuss entirely common? Do we not all feel these things at times? I think that is what people are actually drawn to. And the more we know that others have those real feelings, the more we ... know that we are all doing our very best to love our kids and to become better versions of ourselves every day.

PD: Will you continue to blog?
KH: I do what I love, and blogging -- weaving words and images together to tell the beautiful story of our lives -- is something I love. In blogging, I have learned to look at the mundane events of our life more beautifully, to "paint" them, stand back and proclaim, "This is a masterpiece." Everyone's life is a masterpiece, but sometimes they may not realize it until they take a bird's eye view, which is what blogging allows me to do.

PD: You said in the past that you were skeptical of the Internet. With the outpouring of love and support from so many strangers, have you changed your mind?
KH: I have. I think with any public medium -- and by public, I mean even taking your family out to dinner -- you have to maintain some measure of caution. This medium is still somewhat new. However, it allows so many people to connect in beautiful ways, and I have learned from the support we received that the Internet can be a powerful and profound way for the world to connect.

PD: What is next for you and your family? Will you have more children?

KH: Our goals in life are always centered around being together, that will never change. I look forward to many years of baking cookies with my girls, picnics in the park and puzzles on my living room floor. However, I believe Nella's story and the way people have drawn inspiration from it has opened many opportunities for me as a writer, blogger, photographer and as an advocate for the Down Syndrome community. Most importantly though, we will continue to "enjoy the small things," together, as family, for many years to come. As for more children, I've always wanted three kids. And although I can't predict the future, one more baby sounds pretty dreamy.

PD: What would you like to say to parents who find themselves in your shoes?
KH: You're going to be just fine. I promise. In fact, you will be better than fine.

Related: Rivals Give Last Touchdown to Player With Down Syndrome
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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.
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